Thursday, May 24, 2018

Flashback: Japanland: The Germans Visit for Cherry Blossom Season 2016 (Part II)

At this point our hapless visitors (I'm just kidding, they weren't that bad) left us for a number of days for Kansai, the southern region of the main island of Japan. They wanted to see Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe, but once again, had no semblance of a plan. They ended up spending three days in Kyoto, and then seeing Osaka and Kobe and coming back to Tokyo all in the same day. 
-insert another eyeroll emoji here-

Again, I was not there for this, and neither was Hannes, but I picked a handful of the nicest, most quintessential photos to share - and as you probably know, the two of us have been to those three cities as well, but not to see cherry blossoms.

The shinkansen experience is not complete without alcoholic beverages, 
and the inter-city train experience in Germany is the same.

"No, like, get in the flowers. All the way in."

Pretty sure this is Kiyomizu-dera, the most popular tourist temple out of the 
almost countless big and little ones in Kyoto, though I've never actually been there.

I really love this one.

Trying to get nighttime photos of cherry blossoms never does them justice, 
though, and they almost always turn out blurry and crummy, so at least these ones 
are nice and sharp.

Dat look tho


And finally, of course, Dōtonbori, the famous shopping, eating, and entertainment district in Osaka, and the only photos of this set that weren't taken in Kyoto.

The group returned to Tokyo, and we had decided that one day of the weekend we had together we'd take them to Yokohama and the next we'd go to Kamakura, to more places we'd gone just after moving to Tokyo the summer before that were pretty standard and easy, yet really fun and interesting for vacationers.
I ended up in Yokohama a lot, and shortly after that very sweaty and uncomfortable first visit went to the adorable Pikachu Outbreak event there with Rejon, for example. Which was almost equally sweaty and uncomfortable, but definitely a lot more fun.

Minato Mirai is the central entertainment district of Yokohama, and includes Landmark Tower - which also has a large Pokémon Center - the Nippon Maru and Dockyard Garden, and Cosmoworld, the amusement park you can see part of in the background. The best thing about Cosmoworld is that you can pick and choose what to do: amusement park tickets are usually overpriced in Japan, just like everything else, but for around $6.50, you can ride just the rollercoaster, just the flume ride, et cetera. They also have two or three levels of arcade games inside.

Ah, it was a nice day. Very summery all of a sudden! Actually kind of too bright and too hot, after being wet and cold and wearing jackets and coats for hanami the week before..

Naturally we took everyone on Cosmo Clock 21 (yep, that's its name..), which 
from 1989 to 1992 was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world. /r/mildlyinteresting

I had a conversation with some clients once about how Ferris wheels are extremely popular in Japan, as is summiting mountains, because the Japanese have a general, collective fondness for fine, high vantage points. Consequently, Nico, Moni, Anke, and Marco ended up on three or four different Ferris wheels in total during their trip. 

Between Landmark Tower - which I managed to get all of in a cell phone picture, if you're able to appreciate how high up that means we were - and those other skyscrapers you can see Fuji if it's clear enough, but for something so large and iconic, the peak is also famously elusive. The Germans caught a glimpse of it once, I think, going by it on the shinkansen, but that was it.

We had a massively overpriced, small, low-quality (re: typical for Japan) snack at the center of this very American-style amusement park, and this was where we found out that corn dogs (or アメリカ・ドッグ, "Amerikka doggu", and yet another eyeroll emoji) were a totally new thing for the folks.. I mean, I know they lived their entire young lives behind the Iron Curtain, but still..

I very like this Ferris wheel selfie, much approve, wow

We rode the rollercoaster, which was legit fun, but I remain convinced that the risk of decapitation was real, if not high. I told the guy manning the ride that my boyfriend was 197 cm (around 6'5") and asked if it was okay for him to ride, because we had found each of the very few other times rides came up in Korea and Japan that he was too tall for all of them. 

They guy did this very Japanese thing of not answering my question at all and piling double, triple, quadruple negatives and platitudes and uncertainties on top of each other so that I couldn't even keep track of what he was saying anymore, but didn't try to stop us or anything. I was like, "So. Uh. It's okay?" and he answered with something like "I believe it might not be not okay," so while we were speeding along the tracks I just told Hannes when to duck.

I know. But that's what we did. And it was fun! No one died.

You'd think they would be extremely aware of height limits when it comes to something in a popular tourist spot like this, but for the most part people are extraordinarily empty of information or solutions in Japan.

Next was the flume ride! Anke is scared of heights (she was pretty nervous on the Ferris wheel, but at least Marco didn't shake it around violently) and Moni wasn't feeling it, but Hannes, Nico, Marco and I rode both together.

Finally came the arcade, which has something for everyone, even if you think you're not into this sort of thing. Because Japan knows novelty and games and especially video games, and everybody wanted to try the table-flip rage game and taiko drumming one. Plus, everything becomes fun when you're part of a group and it's totally new to some of you.

This is the table-flipping one, though I couldn't understand enough of it at the time (the summer before, when we first went to Yokohama) to get the full experience hahah.

Concentration intensifies

The same concentration intensifies face

Anke wasn't even trying anymore after a brief period of trying to get the hang of it and then getting frustrated, she just started hitting the drum as fast as she could hoping to get more points by making everything a beat - the Japanese couple in the background found it just as funny as we did.

I can't adequately describe to you how adorable these are in person and how badly I still want them. All of them. They are tiny, like Chiclets. Sigh.

Predictably, nobody won anything from UFO catchers that day.

Also predictably, zombies did in fact die.

And of course, I wouldn't leave you high and dry without the Taiko Master footage.

Next we went to Chinatown, the largest one in Japan and one of the largest in the world, though it's only been around for about 150 years and only a few thousand people actually live there. Part of the reason it's so large is that, in the mid-1800's, the Japanese government restricted the movement of foreign immigrants, allowing them to settle only within specified districts. When the Great Kantō Earthquake struck and totally devastated the Tokyo metro area in 1923, a lot of the immigrants went back instead of rebuilding.

Urgh obligatory cute kitschy panda shit everywhere

This large, centrally-located temple is Kuan Ti Miao, rendered into "Kanteibyo" in Japanese. It was built pretty much right when all the Chinese immigrants started flowing into this port and settling here, in 1862.

Another of my favourites that Nico took.

At least our visitors quickly came to understand my appreciation and love for Japanese manhole covers!

We took them to a Korean BBQ restaurant in Shin Okubo for dinner, and it was very average. I hope we can find a better one in Hamburg, because we've been having a hard time imparting any kind of appreciation, much less love for, Korean food and drink on the people we know who haven't been there.

I tried to take one of the whole group taking one of the Toho Cinemas Godzilla in unison, but Marco moved and Nico noticed. Sigh.

The next day we took an even longer series of train rides to Kamakura, famous for its volcanic-black surfing (as opposed to swimming) beaches and Great Buddha.

A cute little light blue vintage electric train called the Enoden, short for Enoshima Dentetsu or Enoshima Electric Railway, covers the scenic shoreline and the tiny, aging stops at Kamakura, its beaches, and the popular island that is its namesake, Enoshima.

Their family name is "Haase", but the pronunciation is totally different..
They found this quite exciting nonetheless.

The only notable things about the inside of the Buddha statue - because yes, it's big enough for that and you can pay a few bucks to go inside - are that it's a bad idea during summer because it's basically an oven, and that you can see the knobbly texture of his sculpted hair.

This first one is cute because Hannes always steps into pictures like this..

.. but then you're like, oh, it's too bad he didn't focus on the right thing, 
because that would've been a nice one.

Then he even tried again but still didn't focus or check the photo afterward, so I was like "Goddamnit" and kind of wished I'd never seen these ones in the first place :/

This time Anke got some girls in kimono to pose with her instead of just 
taking totally unstealthy creeper shots.

... Aaaand then I'd had enough of the crowds and photos and sat on a quiet rock waiting for everyone else to be done looking around.

We went to the same vegan café as before, too, and everybody agreed that it was good, 
so that was a high point!

This is the view from that window above. It's not the nicest or most scenic beach ever and the weather was pretty shitty again, but it's always a treat having something tasty to eat with an ocean view.

Everyone had a thousand questions about exactly what every vegetable and everything was on the menu and kept asking more before I had time to answer, so I was trying not to be annoyed and failing.

Once again, not gluten-free, but very nice. The creamy stuff there is potato salad.

I like this one.

Egg rolls or spring rolls, I guess? 
The portions are small, but like I said, miraculously, everyone did enjoy it.

And once again, Fuji eluded us as we walked down the same sidewalk above the shoreline we had before. Here's the same basic view from the previous summer, which was very impressive in person:

Also, that island there is Enoshima; we never did go.

Sigh.. Oh well. 

But wait, we went down to the beach to have convenience store drinks and hang out a little before the long train ride back in spite of the icky weather, and instead of an inspiring majestic view, people were being attacked by raptors!

No no, not like the Jurassic Park kind, these:

("And the word raptor even means: bird of prey,"
"That doesn't look very scary! More like a.. six-foot turkey!")

For real though, they were attacking.

Two young women were sitting on the big concrete steps down to the beach and the one had a fluffy scrunchee around her wrist that, once you saw it and the fact that the birds wanted to take it, you had to admit somehow looked like raw meat. Not unlike the massive belligerent seagulls on the frigid Baltic coast from whence these Germans hail, the birds knew neither pity nor shame.

For whatever reason the girls didn't leave after the first, second, or third time the birds swooped and dove directly at them, even catching Scrunchee Girl's hair a little bit. Finally, though, they did. Everyone was amazed by the audacity and grace of the black kites - which is a species that is apparently well-known for divebombing attacks - but also quick to protect their eyeballs and small children.

Then, some guy came walking down the sidewalk eating a hamburger.

"No, no! Wait, don't!" any number of us tried to tell him in however many languages. He looked up and realised people were talking to him and something strange was happening just as one of the birds dove directly at his face. I can't remember now if it grabbed the small half-burger, or just got part of it, or knocked it out of the guy's hand or what exactly, just that it sliced his face in the process. A cut and a little trickle of blood appeared a second later, and the guy was just as shocked as the rest of us.

No pity, no shame! Shiny and chrome all the way to Valhalla. 
But seriously, let's get the fuck away from this nightmarish grey death beach.

That heavy vignette really adds a sense of foreboding, right?
Like you're watching an enemy plane fly over through a viewfinder or periscope?

I think that was the night we had Thai food in Ikebukuro for dinner, which was also completely exotic and bewildering, especially for Moni. It took like 25 minutes for us to order and I had to resort once again to taking deep breaths and retreating to a happy place, which for me was the thought that it would be over soon. Translating a menu is no big deal, but when people have no idea what rice noodles even are or if they want chicken or pork or shrimp or just veggies and can't decide on anything, something simple becomes stressful very quickly.

Anyway, for the next and last full day of the National Lampoon's German-Japanese Vacation, Hannes was taking them to the artificial tourist island of Odaiba, which the government built at spectacular expense in order to populate with expensive hotels, shopping malls, a couple of museums and expo centers, and several major corporate towers - two of which I worked in on a regular basis - and that I only expect began turning something like a profit or breaking even with the money that was sunk into it more than 20 years later. I had expected to join them, but was informed at the last minute that I had to work, which was very unusual and which probably sounded like a made-up excuse to avoid everybody at first.
But I was actually disappointed. I was hoping we'd have one more day to try to get it right and have a good time together, even though the Germans were having a good time in spite of the difficulties, being on a big exciting exotic vacation and everything. I told Hannes to be sure to take them on the scenic Yurikamome Monorail Line, which goes in a big loop over Tokyo Bay before crossing it via the Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba, and he did. They all liked it a lot.

I made this .gif out of part of the ride. Keep watching and try not to get dizzy! 
There's a view of the bridge after this trippy metal cage tunnel.

Another totally unoriginal replica that makes no sense but that tourists love..

They also checked out some robots, rare sports cars, shopping and, of course, the Ferris wheel.

We said goodbye the next day at Denny's in Ikebukuro, of all places, because after so many train rides and restaurants and drinks and activities, everybody was tapped out and wanted to go somewhere cheap. Surprise: Denny's in Japan sucks and is not even cheap. Uggghhh. But it was okay. We just had coffee (no free refills!) and a bit of ice cream.

We were happy they were leaving. We were happy that they had come. We were happy to be on our own again, but weren't really happy in Japan. We knew we could be happier there, but that we'd be happier still in Germany. It was complicated, but it all ended on a pleasant note.

Anke and Hannes both surprised me with flowers (though not at the same time), and Nico surprised me with this Pikachu plush, which clips onto your shoulder. I ended up giving it to Rejon when we left Japan. 

We both wish their visit could have been better, but it was fun and exciting overall, and they don't regret anything about it. Working through shit is just something every couple goes through, and with major events and trips, the inherent stressfulness is readily acknowledged by all, and good memories have a way of sticking while a lot of the bad ones fade away. I'm glad to finally be posting about this, from Germany, and married to Hannes, two cherry blossom seasons later.
Because yeah, Germany has that too. But it's not as nice.

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